Monday, 25 March 2013

The Triumph of the Cross?

Canon Giles Fraser, as only he can,  gets it spectacularly wrong about the mystery of the Cross (not his first offence- see here and here) and manages to be extremely sour and nasty (yet again) about evangelicals:
"...Once again, the evangelicals are in the ascendency in the Church of England. Rowan Williams never spoke of Cheesus. He had way too much gravitas. Which was why so many non-Christians respected him. And, to be fair, Justin Welby doesn't do that either – but I worry that he does have a slight weakness in that direction. After all, that is the stable of the church he hails from. And if he does lapse into Cheesus-speak, heaven save him from Rowan Atkinson, whose Red Nose day satire was a little too close for comfort.
Welby, however, does have one important inoculation against Cheesus. He has personal experience of tragedy and Cheesus cannot deal with tragedy. Which is why, for the worst sort of Cheesus-loving evangelicals, the cross of Good Friday is actually celebrated as a moment of triumph. This is theologically illiterate. Next week, in the run up to Easter, Christianity goes into existential crisis. It fails....
The fact that this is not the end of the story does not take away from the fact that tragedy will always be folded into the experience of faith. Even the resurrected Jesus bears the scars of his suffering. A man who has been through something like that will never smile that cheesy smile or think of faith as some sunny suburban upspeak.  Justin Welby is the theological product of Holy Trinity Brompton, the Old Etonian-run church next to Harrods that brought the world the Alpha Course and doubles up as a posh dating agency for west London singles. They are brilliant at PR and have pots of money. And if Christianity is all about success, then you have it hand it to them.

But the problem with PR Christianity is that it can easily transform Jesus into Cheesus, which is a form of Jesus-lite, a romantic infatuation, a Mills & Boon theology that makes you feel all warm inside. The Gospels, however, tell an altogether more disturbing story. And there is no PR agency in the world that could sell the message of a man who told his followers that they too would have to go the way of the cross. That's the problem with Cheesus. He won't really suffer and he doesn't ever die."
[Read it all here]
But as the Roman Catholic priest, Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith points out in The Catholic Herald, Dr Fraser is not only indulging in a grossly over-simplistic caricature, but is himself missing the point....     
"...Well, yes, one sees what he is saying, but…If Dr Fraser thinks that there are supposed Christians who have abandoned the faith and replaced it with some sort of self-help doctrine, then there might be some point to what he says. However, the concept of the Triumph of the Cross is by no means theologically illiterate. This Triumph is celebrated in East and West on September 14. Its extremely nuanced theology is expressed in the Anglo-Saxon poem The Dream of the Rood.
Good Friday is a triumph for on this day our salvation is accomplished. Far from failing –though it looks that way – Jesus succeeds. Regnavit a ligno Deus, to quote an ancient Christian hymn, the Vexilla Regis: God ruled from a tree...
....The teaching that comes out of HTB is clear and coherent on the great questions of Christian morality. In other words, when facing temptation, people are not told that these things do not really matter, or that there is no point in resisting their sinful impulses, which are perfectly ‘natural’; they are told, relying on the grace of God, to fight the good fight, and to sacrifice their desires on the altar of the Cross.
This is the crunch moment for all who call themselves Christian. Do we make sacrifices, in our desire to live moral lives? Do we, in other words, believe in the Cross? The trajectory of liberal Christianity (if that is not too great an oxymoron) is to deny sin, and in so doing, to deny the necessity of the Cross. Indeed, as John Paul II observed in his great letter on morality, Veritatis Splendor, to abandon traditional Christian morality is tantamount to emptying the Cross of its power (see I Cor 1:17 and Veritatis Splendor 83). For if we say that the struggle to live the moral life is useless or simply doomed to failure, we are also saying that Christ on His Cross did not win for us the grace by which we conquer our temptations. But the message from HTB is a clear one, I have noticed: you can overcome your faults, through the grace of God, because Jesus has won the victory through His Cross..."
[Read the full article here]
The title of Canon Fraser's piece for The Guardian is "I bang my head against the wall when evangelicals turn Jesus into Cheesus" - obviously not hard enough.

As Fr Lucie-Smith says, the significance of the triumph of the Cross is, indeed, one of the many things which can draw Evangelicals and Catholics more closely together, particularly, perhaps, within a church whose liberal ascendancy (check them out - not that many evangelicals, despite Dr Giles Fraser's assertions - and a mere handful of catholics) affects to despise both traditions in equal measure. In the context of a society whose cultural elites now seek to banish the faith from the public square altogether, Canon Fraser's somewhat ambivalent (if not approving) mention of Rowan Atkinson's now notorious Comic Relief sketch speaks volumes. Theological liberalism (increasingly the secularist Trojan horse in our midst) has a genius for tearing things down and 'ditching' anything it deems to be irrelevant to the modern world. Will it ever learn to build?

The Rule of the Anglican priestly Society of the Holy Cross, Societas Sanctae Crucis, says this:
"The call of Christ invites us to take up the cross, and to follow in the way of the Cross, in faithfulness and obedience to Christ, and in union with him, even to death, and beyond death. The brethren shall therefore endeavour to live out the discipline of the crucified Saviour in every aspect of life and through their teaching and pastoral care, to help others to do the same."

The Prayer of the Society of the Holy Cross:

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
for he is our salvation our life and our resurrection, 
through him we are saved and made free.

FATHER, your Son showed the depth of his love 
when, for our sake, he opened his arms on the cross; 
and he has commanded us to love one another.
Keep the brothers of the Society of the Holy Cross united in love and in faith. 
Through the saving power of the Cross 
impressed inwardly upon their lives 
and revealed outwardly in their work, 
may other come to know your love and your truth; 
through Christ our Lord. Amen


  1. It's interesting to see that most of the (secularist) commentators on the Guardian site haven't a clue what Giles Fraser is talking about. He's wrong, but not for the reasons they give.

  2. The man writing in the Guardian was clearly not fasting from alcohol during Lent when he penned off the article. HTB has a catholic parish affiliated to it and Archbishop Welby is a Benedictine oblate. Journalist's one can expect to sterotype everyone and not to show any compassion and decency to the bereaved but someone ordained in the C of E, and writing of his own Archbishop.. really what a brute.


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